Exploring History At Nez Perce National Historical Park

One of the key points of Nez Perce National Historical Park is "Heart of the Monster," where tribal legend has it the Nez Perce people first came to the surface of the Earth. NPS photo.

Editor's note: History is key to understanding the evolution of the United States, and it is a key mission of the National Park Service. The following overview of Nez Perce National Historical Park was put together by Margaret Gonsiewski with insights from Ranger Chris Schlect.

Whether you’re a big history buff or simply just enjoy the beauty of nature, Nez Perce National Historical Park is the perfect getaway for the whole family. Spread across parts of western Idaho, Oregon, Washington, and Montana, the park offers 38 different sites where you can come to understand a bit about the Nez Perce tribe, see some of their sacred lands, and see how the arrival of Euro-Americans affected their lives.

These sites point out both the hardships that these people faced first-hand as well as the traditions they handed down generation to generation Between audio stories at each site and interpretive programs offered by rangers at the Spalding, Idaho, visitor center, there is never a lack of information or feeling of disinterest.

One of the most spectacular sites can be found within the mountains of Washington. Between the bends of the Snake River exists an edge once referred to as ilokotbatki that is now known as Buffalo Eddy.

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Petroglyphs at Buffalo Eddy. NPS photo.

Etched into boulders along the river are petroglyphs from about 4,500 years ago, each of which tells its own story.

A ways down river in Idaho exists the “Heart of the Monster,” where tribal lore has it that the Nez Perce people first surfaced on earth. The river makes for perfect background noise as a Nez Perce elder tells the story of creation-- using a mix of English and his native tongue to explain tribal lore in an entrancing fashion.

More recent history can be found at Weippe Prairie, a key spot of the Lewis & Clark trail in Idaho where you learn of where the weakened members of the Corps of Discovery emerged from the Bitterroot Mountains and were met by Nez Perce youth who took them to their tribal leaders. At Canoe Camp the explorers recuperated and were resupplied by the Nez Perce, who also taught them how to build canoes and navigate on to the West Coast. To this day, visitors still have the opportunity to sit in an old-style dug out canoe as Lewis and Clark did back in 1805.

Another chapter of history told in this unit of the National Park System focuses on the Nez Perce War. Many sites explain the battlegrounds and the lessons learned by both sides in this clash of two two civilizations.

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Big Hole National Battlefield. NPS photo.

At the affiliated Big Hole National Battlefield you’ll find a visitor center with exhibits that display the true tragedy of the conflict. 
 The main visitor center in Spalding is equipped to help you gain an understanding of the traditions of the Nez Perce people and getting you involved in learning their history.

Spend a day, or a week, exploring this historical park, and you’ll come away with an introduction into other human culture, one with both a rich, and a tragic, history.

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